This month, volunteers traveled to Death Valley, California to restore the historic wall surrounding the CCC barracks at Cow Creek Camp. What was involved in the restoration? Brick making. That's right, 14 volunteers learned how to make adobe bricks, and boy did they make some bricks! In total, over a two week period, volunteers created over 1000 bricks to fill in the deteriorating wall! Way to go, team! Let's hear a little more about the project...
The adobe perimeter wall that volunteers restored was built in 1940-1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal relief program during the Great Depression. The wall surrounded a CCC barracks (check out historic images here) that housed and entertained workers. Now, seventy years later, the adobe walls are in disrepair and need to be restored. It's estimated that at least 5000 bricks need to be remade in order to fill in the holes in the walls. Adobe has been in use for thousands of years in dry climates. Though adobe bricks generally include straw in their makeup, the Death Valley bricks do not—instead, they have many rocks in them, due to the limitations of the landscape. HistoriCorps partnered with Cornerstones Community Partnerships for this project, an organization that took the lead in teaching volunteers how to create the adobe bricks out of traditional materials. Volunteer Scott Cole mentioned, "Meeting and working with Kurt and Connie from Cornerstones was probably the highlight of my experience. They are both very willing to share their knowledge and I look forward to working with them in the future and learning more about building with adobe."
Volunteers had to mix the ingredients for the bricks, lay them out and measure them, set them underneath burlap to take shape, then lay the bricks on the wall in neat rows. It may not sound like difficult work, but volunteers certainly learned quite a bit on this trip to Death Valley National Monument! Cornerstones has had multiple volunteer groups engaged in this project, with the goal of over 5000 bricks made in order to complete the wall. We're told that HistoriCorps crews made more than all the other crews were able to create!
Volunteers came from all over the nation to join in the project - from as close as California and Arizona to as far away as Colorado, Michigan, and even South Dakota. With Kat Weisebecker as crew leader, the group had some delicious meals and enjoyed some fun after-hours camaraderie. Volunteer Scott Cole wrote, "I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know my fellow crew members. I brought my sourdough starter along, and many people were very interested. I ended up holding a little workshop on maintaining sourdough starter and baking with it. Two of the people have already sent me pictures of their first successful loaves." You'll never know who you'll meet or what you'll learn when you join a HistoriCorps project!
Gene Sites also recalls the camaraderie he built with other volunteers, and specifically mentions long-time volunteer Bobby Evans, who took out his tools and was "working on his crafts late into the night," much to the delight of other crew members, who learned a bit of woodworking from him: "I gotta say that Bobby's after-hours arts and crafts table was quite the creative place. A couple of very useful project jigs were constructed at the table." Bobby spent the full two weeks at the project, and took some fantastic photos documenting their progress.
Volunteers loved getting to stay at Death Valley itself - from the beautiful sunrises and sunsets to the ever-changing landscape, we heard nothing but great things about the National Monument. Dave Mochel said he enjoyed being able to "visit an historic place and contribute to its survival.
Had it not been for this project, I probably would not have made the journey to Death Valley. Now I feel in at least a small way I am a part of it."
Images thanks to volunteers Bobby Evans, Gabi Moeller, and Gene Sites